COVID Workforce Issues Update March 2021

Changes to level 4 restrictions were outlined yesterday.  Updated guidance and regulations will be published on Friday 12 March to reflect these changes.  In the meantime you can read more here: https://www.gov.scot/news/changes-to-level-4-restrictions 


Schools 

The revised guidance on arrangements for the phased reopening of schools in March 2021 has been published.  You can read that here: 

https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-schools-reopening

The Health and Safety Executive’s bulletin on education and schools is also here: 

Education and schools eBulletin: March 2021 | Hse.gov.uk (newslettercollector.com) 

Elections 

A joint statement has been issued by the Scottish, UK and Welsh governments regarding the elections due to take place in May.  You can read that here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/elections-2021-joint-statement-scottish-government-uk-government-welsh-government  

The UNISON Stirling branch are requesting that the risk assessments associated with all polling stations, polling places and counting places.be shared with them and indeed that they receive a report/update on how a safe election in Stirling will be facilitated.

Library Guidance Updated 

The Covid guidance on public libraries has been updated and can be found here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-public-libraries-guidance

Pay and COVID Workforce Issues Update March 2021

Local Government (LG) Pay 

Please see above a copy of a letter we have received from COSLA following our representations about the lack of any offer at this time.  It’s clear there is no movement until after the Scottish Government’s budget has been finalised.   

We understand that a special meeting of COSLA leaders is being convened, after the third reading of the Scottish Government budget, on 12th March with a meeting of the SJC Steering Group to be convened for the following week.  We will as always keep you abreast of any developments. 

LG Finance/Plug The Gap Campaign 

  • As we enter the final weeks of budget negotiations we would ask that all members please do try to make another push on getting members to contact their MSPs about our campaign to PlugTheGap

Education 

  • The ‘Big Blether’ for support staff took place on Friday and was, we hope, really helpful for all who participated.  The session was recorded for those who were not able to attend the session and it can be viewed here.
  • The FM announced this week that, subject to continued progress on suppressing the virus, all remaining primary school children are set to return to school full-time from 15 March, with all secondary pupils returning on a part-time basis from that date.  Regulated childcare, including breakfast and after-school clubs, for primary pupils will also re-start on 15 March as part of the Phase 2 return.   Updated schools safety guidance to support the phased return will be published next week though an advisory note from the Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues providing advice on school transport, outdoor learning, community transmission, the impact of school closures and staff safety and well-being was published today – you can read that here .

WIG Update 

  • Long Covid – a special meeting is being set up to look in detail at how this should be treated for the purpose of attendance management procedures.  We continue to argue that the principals in the Fair Work statement re no-detriment for Covid related absence should apply.  
  • We raised again the issue of the £500 bonus payment and asked when H&SC staff employed by LG might expect to get it paid.  Following receipt of legal advice and a ‘letter of comfort’ from the Scottish Government underwriting any legal liabilities COSLA Leaders have now apparently agreed to make the payment.  COSLA are now finalising the guidance that will be issued with this and we have requested sight of it in advance.  It is likely payments will be made in April but we’ll confirm as soon as we know. 
  • Homeworking allowance – the JTUs had quite a heated exchange with COSLA on this issue.  It followed rejection of a collective grievance in Glasgow where the council argued, amongst other things, that the payment of the HMRC £6pw allowance was a matter for national negotiation with COSLA and COSLA again seeking to argue that it was a matter for individual authorities. 


Confidential mental health support for Health and social care staff 
Health and social care professionals will have access to a new specialist service offering confidential mental health assessment and treatment. 

The Workforce Specialist Service will be delivered by experts with experience in treating a range of issues such as stress, anxiety, depression or addiction, with a focus on the impact this may have on a person’s work. 

A multidisciplinary team will support anyone who belongs to one of the regulated professions within health and social care.  

It is the latest part of a package of resources available to these workers, including the National Wellbeing Hub, the National Wellbeing Helpline and specific psychological services provided by health boards at a local level.  More information here.

Pay & COVID Workforce Issues Update

Pay 2021 

The SJC Steering Group met with COSLA last week to discuss pay.  To say we were disappointed by that meeting would be an understatement.  

COSLA asked us to talk through our claim, which we did, despite having already done so when we presented it on the 16th December.   

Their response was to tell us that they had no mandate to make any offer at this stage and would come back to us once the Scottish Government’s budget had been finalised in March.   

We have written to all Council Leaders to outline our concerns with this approach. We will keep you updated.   

Workforce Issues Group Update 

The Workforce Issues Group met on the 18th February 2021 and covered a number of issues: 

1.    Schools return – It was noted that the Scottish Government had announced an additional £70m for local government to fund the mitigations necessary to facilitate the safe re-opening of schools.  This money is solely for this purpose and does not address the wider LG funding gap which continues to exist. 

Representations were made by several participants re the suitability of face coverings and face masks. 

The inconsistency of approach across different local authorities was discussed.

Please also encourage members to sign up to the Big Blethers taking place over the coming weeks and submit questions on their concerns in advance – this is their opportunity to express those concerns and get answers to them direct from the decision makers.  

Details here: https://professionallearning.education.gov.scot/learn/events/2021/february/public-health-blether-school-support-staff 

A copy of the e-mail issued to all UNISON members in education earlier this week can be read here: https://www.unison-scotland.org/education-elc-re-opening-monday-22-february 

2.    Vaccinations – We pressed COSLA and Scottish Government officials re vaccination prioritisation for all staff working in ASN settings.  They responded that they were limited to the JCVI prioritisation list and that there were issues re supply.  Colleagues who had attended CERG that morning indicated that they understood LAs could apply a liberal approach and encouraged this.  We will update when we have more. 

3.    Forthcoming Elections – we received a presentation from the Chair of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, Malcolm Burr, on the safety measures being put in place to address our concerns about worker safety in the conduct of the forthcoming parliamentary elections.  It was heartening to hear from SOLACE representatives that they shared the concerns expressed and had these uppermost in their minds in the planning and preparations they were putting in place. Malcolm stated that a number of measures were being undertaken including: 

  • Expansion of postal voting to reduce the number of people turning up to polling stations. 
  • A complete review and risk assessment of all polling stations, polling places and counting places to ensure they can be, and are, adapted for the mitigations that will be necessary to protect workers during the conduct of the poll. 
  • A reduction in the number of electors allocated to each polling station (to 800) to reduce the numbers that will turn up to each. 
  • A review of polling places to ensure that where they host multiple polling stations that there are separate entry/exit points for each station and where not expanding the number of polling places. 
  • Emergency proxy voting to account for those who might have to self-isolate after the postal vote application deadline to ensure they don’t breach Covid isolation rules by turning up to a polling station. 
  • Provision of PPE, additional cleaning materials, social distancing and screens for all polling stations and counting places.  This will all take additional staff, which we flagged. 
  • Directions provided to all returning Officers stating that there should be no overnight counting of ballots – given the additional mitigations that were being out in place for the count they needed to take account of the fact that the whole process will take much longer than normal and they don’t want people doing it when they are tired. 
  • Restrictions on the numbers allowed in to the count, to only those with a statutory right to be there, and only allowing entry to those who attend a safety briefing in advance. 
  • Additional use of the police and ‘Covid Marshalls’ to help enforce mitigations. 

We asked that risk assessments were shared with local TU reps in advance and this was agreed.  We will be requesting  risk assessments from the local returning officer’s and we will flag up further concerns as members raise these with us.

It was also agreed that Malcolm Burr would give us another briefing closer to the elections so that we could raise any issues at that time. 

Expansion of asymptomatic testing 

Asymptomatic testing has now been expanded to cover close contacts of people who test positive for COVID.  As well as being asked to isolate for 10 days, these individuals will also now be asked, as a matter of course, to get tested as well. And if they then test positive, their contacts will be traced, so that more chains of transmission can be broken.  

More information here: https://www.gov.scot/news/close-contacts-to-be-offered-testing